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The King James Bible: Its History and Influence

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Recommended Reading

The exhibition The King James Bible: Its History and Influence tells the little-known story of one of the most widely read and printed books in the history of the English language. Visit the exhibition to learn more about how, 400 years after its first printing, the King James translation of the Bible remains a vital work whose language permeates contemporary music, literature, and everyday speech.

These recommended books trace the history of the influence of this translation.

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Bible, The Story of the King James Version by Gordon Campbell


Campbell provides a concise, readable history of both the translation and reception of the King James Version.

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Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp by Harriet Beecher Stowe


Stowe's lesser-known novel, Dred, addressed criticism of her characterization of Uncle Tom in Uncle Tom's Cabin. The title character is a runaway slave who preaches violence and vengeance. The reading and interpretation of the Bible, and its bearing on American slavery, is a fundamental issue in Dred. Stowe's characters reference the King James version throughout the novel, with women most frequently quoting the New Testament and men the Old Testament.

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God Knows by Joseph Heller


Heller, best known for his novel Catch-22, offers readers a glimpse of the life of King David, a man very much concerned with his biblical legacy and aggrieved that some of his best lines have been attributed to his son Solomon. Of Solomon, David writes, "I'll let you in on a secret... he was dead serious when he proposed cutting the baby in half."

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God's Trombones by James Weldon Johnson


Johnson's "seven Negro sermons in verse" originally appeared with stunning illustrations by Aaron Douglas. Johnson explained that the ministers whose voices he tried to capture were "saturated with the sublime phraseology of the Hebrew prophets and steeped in the idioms of King James English."

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J. B. by Archibald MacLeish


MacLeish won both a Pultizer and a Tony for this play in verse. He created a play within in a play as two circus vendors assume the roles of God and Satan in a Job-like story. The vendors, Nickles and Mr. Zuss, speak in the words of the King James version when in character.

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Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language by David Crystal


Crystal's book traces the influence of the King James translation on everyday speech from phrases like "let there be light" to "out of the mouth of babes."



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